England pull ahead with Test delicately poised
Stumps India 181 for 6 (Rahane 61, Pujara 45, Wood 3-40, Ali 2-52) and 364 lead England 391 by 154 runs
England managed to completely change the pace of the game, control it throughout the fourth day, and pushed India against the wall on a gripping day’s play. Mark Wood, who began the Test struggling for discipline and recovered on the second day for two wickets, elevated himself another step as he forced India’s struggling middle order into the game early by dismissing their openers before the visitors could get into the lead.
Wood went off injured late in the day after trying to save a run, tumbling at the third-man boundary, but was poised to come back in for the second new ball before bad light denied England’s pacers a spell at India’s tail and eventually brought the day to an end, with eight overs to spare. India had crawled to 181 for 6 in 82 overs by stumps, 154 ahead on a pitch that has changed flavour rapidly in favour of the bowlers.
A manifestation of that was the trouble Moeen Ali‘s off-spin caused India late in the day. He troubled Rahane in particular, getting the ball to bite into the surface and cut the room for the batter’s favoured back-foot punch some times, and sliding on past and underneath his bat on others. That natural variation had forced Rahane to chop aerially to Jonny Bairstow’s right at point – only to to be dropped – before Ali managed to finally find the outside edge.
That brought India down to their last recognised batting pair of Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja. Ali managed to separate them as well, with a dream off-break that squared Jadeja up to knock the top of his off stump. Jadeja’s appreciation of a pitch that would allow such a delivery might have only come once he was back in the dressing room, for it was the last over before the second new ball was due. On an up-and-down pitch, England could have inflicted a second collapse of the day on India had the light held up.
The first collapse, that reduced India to 55 for 3, saw England take control of the game. Right from the start of the day, James Anderson went slightly shorter with his length than he usually does, with the new ball consistently getting big on KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma. The pair looked assured enough on the front foot once again, but Joe Root had seen enough to hand the ball to Wood as early as the sixth over. In the first innings, he had come on in the 20th, with the openers well set.
It paid off for Root, as Wood began clocking close to 150kph immediately, in addition to getting steep bounce in the channel. It proved enough to dismiss Rahul, who played slightly inside the line of one to edge behind.
Rohit makes no secret of enjoying extra bounce and pace, and once again he brought out his hook shot to clear the square-leg boundary to wipe out the 27-run deficit. Not long after, he invited another inquest into his shot selection, taking the hook shot on to find the square-leg fielder – one of three on the leg-side boundary – who had been sent back right before that ball.
Virat Kohli came out flowing, his first two scoring shots boundaries through the covers. This was in stark contrast to Cheteshwar Pujara whose role once again was to play for time at his end. It took Pujara 35 deliveries to get off the mark, drawing ironic applause from the crowd, but some calm seemed to have been restored to India’s innings by then.
Enter Sam Curran. Before he got Kohli, he had gone through 37 wicketless overs in the series. But before he got Kohli, he had completely unsettled him. First with a relentless attack into his stumps from around the wicket, then the same with inswingers from over the wicket that included an unsuccessful lbw review, before completing the set-up by dangling one wide outside off stump for Kohli’s third consecutive dismissal nicking off in the series.
At 55 for 3, India had Pujara and Rahane together, both of whom have been under considerable pressure recently. And it showed, as any thoughts of pushing for a big enough target seemed to fade away. To their credit, the pair batted nearly 50 overs together for a 100-run stand, having to face an English attack that brought a lot more variety and imagination to their plans than they had in the first innings.
The most daunting of those plans involved, at one point, a silly point, a forward short leg, a backward short leg, a catching backward square leg, and a fly slip as Wood came back for a fiery second spell of short-pitched bowling. In a manner reminiscent of India’s Test at the Gabba earlier this year, Pujara copped blows to his body, the true extent of uneven bounce magnified by Wood’s pace and direction. From the other ends, Anderson and Curran tested India outside off, while Ali was used increasingly to try and coax some attacking shots from them.
Rahane did bring some of those out, stepping out to loft him over mid-on, and even employing the sweep as he battled to a fifty. Pujara, in the meantime, was gathering more ironic applause; he was on 12 off 100, then 40 off 200. Eventually, he took Wood on with a pulled boundary that brought up the century partnership. But the very next ball, another one climbed off a length and pinged his gloves, and there was little to do other than fending it to Root at second slip, who was standing close in on yet another day where edges didn’t carry.
One hundred and fifty five for 4 turned to 175 for 6 with the wickets of Rahane and Pujara. England were set for a final push to try and finish India off when the umpires told them the day’s play would end if a fast bowler came on in that light. A final bit of chaos – one way or another, with Pant in there – was thus averted, but the match is poised for plenty of similar action on the final day. (ESPNcricinfo)